Germany hit by transport chaos as rail staff strike over pay

German rail workers staged a four-hour stoppage but their union said it would now pursue talks with operator Deutsche Bahn to resolve a dispute over pay. Long-distance rail traffic came to a standstill and commuter and freight trains were disrupted.
Commuters waiting on the platform for a U-Bahn underground train at Berlin Alexanderplatz station yesterday during a rail workers’ strike across the country over a pay dispute. The union is demanding a 7.5 per cent salary rise for 160,000 employees
Commuters waiting on the platform for a U-Bahn underground train at Berlin Alexanderplatz station yesterday during a rail workers’ strike across the country over a pay dispute. The union is demanding a 7.5 per cent salary rise for 160,000 employees. Inter-city and regional services as well as many urban commuter trains were cancelled because of the four-hour stoppage. PHOTO: REUTERS

FRANKFURT • Germany was plunged into transport chaos yesterday as most train services were halted by a workers' strike over pay, affecting millions of passengers.

Inter-city and regional services as well as many urban commuter trains were cancelled because of the four-hour stoppage from 5am local time (noon Singapore time), railway company Deutsche Bahn said.

The strike halted all high-speed InterCity Express trains and other inter-city services as well as most cargo trains, causing delays that continued well into the afternoon.

In the capital Berlin, where the entire public announcement system broke down too, frustrated commuters were asked to switch from S-Bahn commuter trains operated by Deutsche Bahn to subways, buses or trams.

The strike came after talks broke down on Saturday between Deutsche Bahn and the EVG railworkers' union, which is demanding a 7.5 per cent salary rise for 160,000 employees.

"The employer made offers which did not correspond to the demands of our members," said EVG negotiator Regina Rusch-Ziemba.

Deutsche Bahn described the strike as a "completely unnecessary escalation", insisting that its offer was "attractive and met the main demands" of employees. The railway company had offered a pay rise of 5.1 per cent in two phases, with an option for staff to take extra time off instead, and a one-off payment of €500 (S$783), the DPA national news agency reported.

Deutsche Bahn in a tweet also denied it had broken off negotiations, charging that "the EVG left the talks and went on strike". The train operator said it was ready to restart talks at any time. "(Deutsche Bahn) remains ready to continue the negotiations at any time."

A Deutsche Bahn spokesman added: "Parties that negotiate must be prepared to make concessions."

The union responded by saying it was considering returning to the table this afternoon.

The strike also impacted Deutsche Bahn customer services offices, meaning that at many stations, passengers were left without information over loudspeakers or display boards.

Deutsche Bahn said purchased tickets would remain valid until next Sunday or could be refunded. It urged passengers to delay travel where possible.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2018, with the headline 'Germany hit by transport chaos as rail staff strike over pay'. Print Edition | Subscribe